Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Best Legal Drama: No. 4 The Brass Verdict

The Brass Verdict (2008) is the second of Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer legal thrillers.  I put it on this list because of its powerful opening page.  But in reality, any of Connelly's novels* featuring LA lawyer Mickey Haller could fill this spot.

Connelly has won nearly every thriller and mystery writing award, including the 2009 Anthony Award and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for thriller of the year for The Brass Verict.  His 2011 Lincoln Lawyer novel The Fifth Witness won the Harper Lee Award for legal fiction from the American Bar Association.

Connelly is best known for the interlocking Harry Bosch detective novels and the Lincoln Lawyer legal thrillers.  But in the course of spinning excellent tales of murder, greed, serial killers, corruption and everything else readers of detective and lawyer stories want, Michael Connelly gets the law right.

Connelly's courtroom strategies are well-conceived.  He knows how lawyers communicate with clients and jurors.   He captures the pulse and pace of the courtroom.  His knows civil procedure and evidence, and keeps the plot moving along within the bounds of the rules of court.  His recitations of testimony have a realism to them, capturing the ebb and flow of courtroom testimony. He even gets it right when dealing with expert witnesses.

The opening chapter of The Brass Verdict  -- only one page -- is not only the best opening page of any legal thriller, it may be the most gripping opening page I've ever read.  And even in that first page, you know that he gets the law right. Here it is:

   "Everybody lies.
    Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.
    A trial is a contest of lies.  And everybody in the courtroom knows this.  The judge knows this. Even the jury knows this.  They come into the builing knowing they will be lied to.  They take their seats in the box and agree to be lied to.
    The trick if you are sitting at the defense table is to be patient. To wait. Not just for any lie. But for the one you can grab on to and forge like hot iron into a sharpened blade. You then use that blade to rip the case open and spill its guts out on the floor
    That's my job, to forge the blade.  To sharpen it. To use it without mercy or conscience. To be the truth in a place where everybody lies."

Now the kicker.  The guy who writes what maybe the most accurate legal thrillers you will ever read isn't a lawyer.  He's a former journalist.  Go figure.

Movie note: The Lincoln Lawyer movie staring Matthew McConaughey (click here for movie trailer) was a big hit in 2011. Articles  this summer reported that McConaughey was pushing hard for making The Brass Verdict into a movie, and that plans were going forward, including preparation of a script. However McConnaughey and Woody Harrellson recently signed to do True Detective, an HBO crime series with an 8-episode first season. Its unclear how this may impact plans for a movie sequel to The Lincoln Lawyer.

*Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer novels to date are:  The Lincoln Lawyer, The Brass Verdict, The Reversal and The Fifth Witness.

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